For Artists’ SAKE!

Posted on August 26, 2010 ·

What is art? I’ve been asked this question thousands of times from the start of my high school career (at a performing & visual arts school) throughout the time I’ve spent thus-far in a liberal arts college. For me, I think of art in terms of musicians. What is it that you’re creating? Why? What are you trying to say? Do you have anything to say, or are you simply exploring the possibilities of creation?

I should hold these standards of art to all music I listen to, but mostly I expect it out of singers. It’s the voice. The soul. The truth that flows through every note held, every word vibrated, and pushed out onto a world who’s day-to-day life is far less than harmonious. It’s the sound of soulful singers who can bring life to a vacant track.  Artists who do this for me is a long, alternating list (depending on the era) from Erykah Badu, Otis Redding, Bilal, Nina Simone, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Etta James, Jill Scott, and Lauryn Hill to name a few.

As of late, I was slow to join the bandwagon of Janelle Monae simply because I hadn’t taken out the time to give her a chance. To say the least, with the release of her latest album, ArchAndroid, I was fed all I needed and wanted at the very moment I allowed myself to.  But now, with her latest video, I question her ability to challenge everyday norms and live up to the responsibility her artistry demands.  And it just so happens that the song for the video, “Cold War,” became one of my Top 3 favorite tracks (alongside “Say You’ll Go” and “Dance or Die”) from the album.  The lyrics are captivating:

So you think I’m alone?
But being alone’s the only way to be
When you step outside
You spend life fighting for your sanity

This is a cold war
You better know what you’re fighting for
This is a cold war
Do you know what you’re fighting for?

If you wanna be free?
Below the ground’s the only place to be
Cause in this life
You spend time running from depravity

The uptempo beat demands movement; action.  The words promise possibility; change.  The video.. simply.. does not.

“Disappointed” does not describe the feeling.  The most I feel about it is confused.  With all of the hype surrounding it after its release, I envisioned a statement.  A statement BIGGER than the song.  But the plain imagery, (dolled up in make-up), black background, and a simple head shot that neither compliments nor multiplies the message of the song.  In comparison, let’s take it back to Erykah Badu’s recent video for “Window Seat.”  The song– on the surface — was a heartfelt rant about a woman’s love who longed for a confined space (sometimes) in a world full of calamity.  But the video heightened the song to another level–adding the elements of groupthink and challenging her listeners to go deeper than what’s on the surface.  This is the artistry all artists should strive towards.  You don’t have to get naked to do it.  You just have to take hold of your art.  Be your art.  What does your art mean to you?

This video for “Cold War” does not evoke anything in me.  If it were a love song, I didn’t feel the love.  If it were a hate song, I didn’t feel the hate.  More-so I felt mild-entertainment in what should have been more like adrenaline, anguish, fear, hope, strength.  The tear felt out of place and the turning of the head was too calculated.  I wanted to look at this video and say “YES! WE ARE LIVING IN A DAMN COLD WAR AND IT’S M-F’N TIME WE REALIZE WHAT WE’RE FIGHTING FOR!”  Instead, the dull video drowns out the lyrics.  Her playful eyes makes me forget to listen to the song, and I get caught up in the wondering how she got her eyelashes so perfect.  (Say what you will!) In the end, it comes off as completely contradictory to the true art of the song.

All I’m saying is that it’s time we take our artistry to the next level.  If you’re going to push the envelope, GO ALL THE WAY!  Push buttons and don’t stop until they fall off!  Call out others and keep the momentum going until others join!  Am I the only one sick of mediocre music?

Music may not be the way to a new world, but I know for sure that it’s the first step.  If we’re living in a cold war, I just want some coffee with my pain for now.

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